This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
The continued advance in the price of glycerine continues to excite comment among those who deal in or use it, and no one seems to know exactly where or when the advance is likely to stop, or by what means a retrograde movement will probably be brought about.
As we have heretofore stated, the rise has been brought about by a combination of two causes--a falling off in production and a great increase in the demand, owing to the discovery of new uses for it, and the extension of the branches of manufactures in which it has been heretofore employed.
In pharmacy, it is coming more and more into use daily, and in various other branches of manufacture the same tendency is observable. It has proved itself so elegant and so convenient a vehicle for the administration of various medicinal substances, is so easily miscible with both water and alcohol, and is so pleasant to the taste, that it seems almost a wonder that it should have been so long in attaining the rank among the articles of the Materia Medica which it now occupies. The two manufactures, however, which seem to lead in the demand for glycerine are of nitro-glycerine and of oleomargarine.
The uses to which it is put for the former are well known, but precisely what the latter could want of the article is not, at first glance, quite so obvious. We are informed, however, that it is valued for its antiseptic properties, and also for its softening effect on the quasi butter. Be this as it may, it seems that both here and in Europe the makers of these two articles are buying largely of both crude and refined glycerine.
So it appears that the willingness of the people to eat artificial butter, and the progress in schemes for internal improvement, such as the De Lesseps Canal, for instance, to say nothing of the European revolutionists, are responsible to a great extent for the scarcity of an important article of pharmaceutical use.
On the other hand, while there is a notable increase in the demand for the article, there is a gradual but very sure and noticeable falling off in the production.
At present the supply for the whole world comes from the candlemakers of Europe--chiefly France and Germany--and, as improved methods of illumination push candles out of the drawing rooms of the wealthier as well as the cabins of the poor, and consequently out of the markets, the production of glycerine naturally grows less. In France, for instance, candles are coming to be regarded among the wealthy chiefly as articles of luxury, and are lighted only for display at festivals of especial magnificence and ceremony, while among the poor the kerosene lamp is coming into almost as universal use as here.
To be sure, the inexorable inn-keeper still keeps up, we believe, the inevitable bougie, but even that is fast becoming more of a fiction than ever. Even in the churches, it is said, the use of candles is gradually falling off. To these causes must be attributed the decreasing supply of the crude material, but it may be doubted whether this decrease would be sufficient to materially affect the price for some time to come were it not for the increased demand for the two industries to which we have alluded. Obviously, there must be found eventually some substitute for glycerine, or else some new source from which it may be procured. The natural place to look for this would be in the waste lye from the soapmakers' boilers, but so far no one has succeeded in obtaining from this substance the glycerine it undoubtedly contains by any process sufficiently cheap to allow of its profitable employment.
We are assured by a veteran soap-boiler who has experimented much in this direction that it is impossible to recover a marketable article of glycerine from the lees of soap in which resin is an ingredient. In his words, it "kills the glycerine," and, as none but a few of the finest soaps are now made without resin, it would seem that the search for glycerine in this direction must be a hopeless one. It is a curious commentary in the present state of affairs that previous to about 1857, when candles were largely manufactured in this country, there was little or no demand for glycerine, and millions of pounds of it were run into the sewers. Even then, however, the use of it as a wholesome and pleasant article of diet was known to the workmen employed in the candle factories, who were accustomed to drink freely of the mingled glycerine and water which constituted the waste from the candles. Yet with this fact under their noses, as it were, it is only recently that members of the medical profession have begun to recommend the same use of glycerine as a substitute for cod liver oil.--Pharmacist.